MLB Deep Dive – 4/11/17

PITCHING

Jameson Taillon [RHP – PIT] vs. CIN – I can’t say I’m particularly worried about the Reds staying ‘hot’ on Tuesday. Tyler Glasnow was an unmitigated disaster last night, getting wild early on and never finding his command before being yanked in the second inning, but the damage was mostly the result of walks. Sure, Cincinnati hit two home runs in the later innings, but this quickly became a bullpen game for the Pirates, who were just looking to avoid exhausting their relievers. The Reds are still a well below average offensive team, who against a pitcher who isn’t his own worst enemy should struggle to hit at PNC Park.

Taillon has good stuff, and unlike Glasnow, he does a phenomenal job of limiting walks (4.1% BB in 2016). Armed with a 94 MPH sinker, an above average curve and a passable changeup, Taillon found plenty of success in his rookie campaign. He held right-handed hitters to a .285 wOBA and struck them out at a 24 percent clip, which should serve him well against the Reds. Taillon also limited baserunners with a 52.4 percent groundball rate, which could actually increase in 2017…

David Laurila of FanGraphs, who spoke with Taillon last week, noted that the 6’5” right-hander has begun to throw more two-seamers in order to get more movement and induce more ground balls and weaker contact. Additionally, Taillon is now pairing that with a two-seam changeup, which, if improved, could result in more missed bats and hopefully better numbers against left-handed hitters. As the heaviest favorite of any pitcher throwing on Tuesday’s main slate (-184 ML), Taillon makes for my favorite mid-range pitcher, and should help us forget such a dismal performance from teammate Tyler Glasnow last night.

 

J.A. Happ [LHP – TOR] vs. MIL I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sparked the turnaround of a then-33-year-old J.A. Happ, who had bounced around the league for years as a middling lefty before redefining his game in 2015 with Toronto. It wasn’t just that Happ became an above average pitcher last season — it was that he managed to become an above average pitcher at one of the least friendly ballparks in the toughest division baseball has to offer. Yes, Happ posted a 3.61 ERA in his second stint with the Blue Jays, winning 20 games to only four losses while striking out 7.52 batters per nine in the process.

Happ doesn’t have elite stuff. He sits on a 92 MPH fastball, induces ground balls at a league-average clip, and has never posted a swinging strike rate above 10 percent (9.6% SwStr in 2016 was a career high). So what took Happ from being a replacement-level arm to a 20-win darling overnight? Well, when in doubt, just ask Eno Sarris. In his FanGraphs article, “J.A. Happ’s (Newest) Fastball Secret,” Sarris credits Happ’s newfound success with his ability to throw a sinker that has a whopping five-inch difference in vertical movement from his fastball — the most of any pitcher in baseball. Happ gets 60 percent ground balls on his sinker, but his increased usage of the pitch has also served as a way to set up his four-seamer, which has a double-digit swinging strike rate.

I noticed Happ threw his four-seamer and sinker a combined 84 percent of the time in his first start of 2017 (36%/48% FA/FT), actually throwing the two-seamer for almost half of his pitches. Ultimately, whatever he’s doing is working, and although the Rogers Centre serves up home runs at an above-average clip, Happ gets enough strikeouts with his fastball and enough ground balls with his sinker to limit the damage.

He’ll face a Brewers team on Tuesday that struck out at a 24.7 percent clip against LHP last season (3rd most). They can hit for power and have enough righties to inflict damage, but Happ continues to defy the odds, and I don’t see why he can’t post another strong outing this evening. The Blue Jays are -180 ML favorites against Wily Peralta, so Happ should also have an excellent shot at earning the win while posting a line somewhere in the neighborhood of 7IP/2ER/7K at home.

Matt Harvey [RHP – NYM] @ PHI Harvey will likely need to pitch to contact in order to have success this season, as his velocity is still much lower than seasons past and that will directly affect his secondary offerings. He was sharp against the Braves, pitching 6.2 efficient innings in a 6-2 win, but didn’t miss many bats (7.8% SwStr) in the outing. Now, the Phillies should strike out plenty against right-handed pitching, something Atlanta has been able to limit, but I’m not sold on this being an elite spot for Harvey.

I have Harvey as a secondary option, best suited for cash games, but for GPPs I’d rather take my chances on Dylan Bundy [RHP – BAL] if the Red Sox lineup remains gutted. Bundy is a huge question mark, but he does offer elite strikeout upside, has a career double-digit swinging strike rate, and what I’m most excited about, Bundy reintroduced his slider in his 2017 debut. It was filthy, dazzling and unhittable, generating tons of swings and misses, and effective against both righties and lefties. Bundy downplayed his comfortability with the pitch, but the results would suggest that it was flat out nasty. If he has the slider working for him on Tuesday, look out Major League Baseball, Bundy has arrived. The 9.5-run total on this game is ugly, but we already know Bundy is either going to give up eight runs in three innings or strike out nine across seven. I guess we’ll find out.

HITTING

HIGH-PRICED

Colorado Rockies vs. Weaver [RHP] Jered Weaver’s fastball topped out at 85.9 MPH in his 2017 debut. EIGHTY FIVE MILES PER HOUR! He also finished last season with a 28.8 percent ground ball rate, allowed 37 home runs, and had a 2.4 percent swinging strike rate across 178 innings pitched. I simply don’t know how he’s going to pitch at Coors Field… I mean, Wil Myers homered on a popup to center field last night. This isn’t Petco Park, or Angel Stadium — This is Coors Field.

I get it, Coors will disappoint at times. Groundball pitchers — Jarred Cosart is an extreme GB pitcher — can have some success there if they limit hard contact, but Weaver literally doesn’t have any contingency plan. He allowed a .365 wOBA to LHB and RHB last season with a 200-plus ISO vs. both. Weaver allowed 1.78 HR/9 to lefties and 1.94 to righties, with a 5.68 xFIP and 5.61 xFIP, respectively. He should get annihilated from both sides of the plate, and I simply don’t see any reason why even a contrarian fade would make sense.

Charlie Blackmon [OF – L], Nolan Arenado [3B – R], Charlie Blackmon [OF –  L], D.J. LeMahieu [2B – R], Mark Reynolds [1B/3B – R]… they’re all in play. ALL OF THEM!

Check out Antonio Senzatela’s MLB debut breakdown by Jeff Zimmerman before assuming this guy is going to come into Coors and crush. Plus fastball with great command will certainly help, but he lost velocity every inning, left some sliders out over the plate and didn’t have any break on his changeup. The reduction in the Magnus force in high altitude will already lessen break on pitches at Coors, so either Senzatela throws more fastballs (he’s going to throw a ton of them), or he risks getting hammered.

I’m not nearly as high on Padres hitters as I am on Rockies bats, but Wil Myers [1B/OF – R], Yangervis Solarte [2B/3B – L/R], Ryan Schimpf [2B/3B – L] and Travis Jankowski [OF – L] are all still viable stack options in a game that owns a 12-run total. San Diego’s 5.5-run implied total is the second highest on this 10-game slate behind only Colorado.

Bryce Harper [OF – L] vs. Lynn [RHP] – Lance Lynn has consistently posted strong career numbers at home and against right-handed hitters. On the road, against lefties, however, Lynn has struggled, allowing a career .360 wOBA with 1.12 HR/9 surrendered. Lynn doesn’t allow a lot of home runs (.47 HR/9 vs. RHB, .47 HR/9 at home), but he truly does become less efficient on the road when batters have the platoon advantage. Harper mashes righties to the tune of a .394/.240 ISO split, and I don’t envision him being high-owned on Tuesday with Coors on the slate.

Starling Marte [OF – R] vs. Davis [RHP] Outside of a passable fastball, Rookie Davis doesn’t have any out pitches — hence the projected 15.8 percent K-rate for 2017. A sub-par slider and middling changeup won’t do him any favors against disciplined hitters, and it doesn’t help to know he allowed two home runs to Daniel Nava in his Major League debut. Davis probably doesn’t belong in the majors right now, but what other options do the Reds have?

Marte saw a decline in home runs last year, but still stole 47 bases and sported a .358 wOBA vs. right-handed pitching. PNC Park doesn’t favor the hitter, but Pittsburgh owns one of the highest implied run totals on the slate (4.7 TT) and has the bats to chase Davis from the mound. Marte is a sneaky good play with GPP-winning upside against the Reds.

HONORABLE MENTION: Josh Donaldson [3B – R] vs. Peralta [RHP]; Carlos Correa [SS – R] @ Miranda [LHP]

MID-RANGE

 George Springer [OF – R] @ Miranda [LHP] – Springer is too cheap on DraftKings even if this game is being played at Safeco. He’s the one Astro who’s been consistently hitting well to start the season, and draws a matchup with Miranda, an extreme flyball southpaw who’s allowed 13 home runs in only 52 career innings pitched against righties. The change in venue will benefit Miranda, but he’s still liable to get rocked by the righty-heavy ‘Stros. Springer’s salary is really nice for a leadoff power bat, and I’d recommend considering getting some exposure.

Devon Travis [2B – R] vs. Peralta [RHP] Travis has gotten off to a miserable start in 2017, but a matchup with Wily Peralta should remedy those struggles. Peralta impressed in his first start of the season, but he’s still a well-below average pitcher who should labor through a tough matchup with Toronto. Five plate appearances seems probable for Travis, whose career numbers against same-handed pitchers are better than when he’s had the platoon. Jose Altuve [2B – R] and Dee Gordon [2B – L] are also in play at the position, as both offer stolen base upside in plus matchups this evening.

Asdrubal Cabrera [SS – L/R] @ Buchholz [RHP] Cabrera draws a very appealing matchup against Clay Buchholz, whose fastball velocity was down significantly from 2015. Buchholz isn’t going to get a lot of swinging strikes and should definitely see a decrease in groundball rate this season. He’ll have a tough time pitching at Citizens Bank Park, too, as the game-time temperatures will be higher than any day this year. Adam Morgan will also be used as Philadelphia’s long reliever tonight, which positions the switch-hitting Cabrera perfectly for whatever comes his way.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kendrys Morales [1B – L/R] vs. Peralta [RHP]; Freddie Freeman [1B – L] @ Straily [RHP]; Neil Walker [2B – L/R] @ Buchholz [RHP]; Andrew Benintendi [OF – L] @ Bundy [RHP]; Adam Eaton [OF – L] vs. Lynn [RHP]; Billy Hamilton [OF – L/R] @ Taillon [RHP]

VALUE

Adam Frazier [2B/SS/OF – L] vs. Davis [RHP] Frazier isn’t an exciting player, but he’ll make for a fine value option if he leads off against the right-handed rookie, Rookie. Frazier isn’t going to do much in the form of extra-base hits, either, but he gets on base at a solid clip and could see five plate appearances at a dirt cheap price point. Pittsburgh should score plenty of runs, providing Frazier with several opportunity to knock in runs or cross the plate himself.

Tony Wolters [C – L] vs. Weaver [RHP] Repeating what I said in Monday’s Deep Dive, Wolters is cheap on DraftKings, has the platoon and is hitting at Coors. He isn’t good, but Wolters’ career numbers in Colorado are more than serviceable enough to consider him at a weak catcher position. Jered Weaver is so dreadfully bad that I’m not against using any hitters from this Rockies lineup if they’re reasonably priced. Evan Gattis [C – R] is an interesting punt on FanDuel, facing the homer-prone southpaw in Miranda, while Chris Herrmann would obviously become a strong catcher punt if he’s batting sixth. AT&T Park sucks for hitters, but the backstop position is so bad that a near min-sal price for Herrmann with the platoon advantage is worth considering.

HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Marrero [1B/OF – R] vs. Ray [LHP]; Josh Bell [OF – L/R] vs. Davis [RHP]; Michael Conforto [OF – L] @ Buchholz

TOP STACKS

Colorado Rockies vs. Weaver [RHP]

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Peralta [RHP]

San Diego Padres @ Senzatela [RHP]

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Davis [RHP]

New York Mets @ Buchholz [RHP]

Houston Astros @ Miranda [LHP]